IRIN, Un News Service
1 December 2011
One year on from the presidential elections that caused conflict across Côte d’Ivoire, ex-President Laurent Gbagbo has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), tensions have eased in most areas, the economy has improved, and almost all schools have reopened and hospitals are functioning. But reconciliation has a long way to go.
Many feel that international justice, by pursuing Gbagbo and not others, is one-sided. Rifts remain between communities, much of the west remains lawless, and thousands of Ivoirians are too frightened to return home. Many residents are not looking forward to parliamentary elections set for December 2011.
Response to the news of the ICC’s arrest warrant for ex President Laurent Gbagbo has been deeply divided. Some are relieved, but many people IRIN spoke to said it smacked of victor’s justice. Many analysts say justice has not been even handed, and that only pro-Gbagbo associates – whether civilian or military – have been charged.
“It’s a good thing because it is necessary for the stability of the country, but it is unfair,” said Paul, a financial executive in Abidjan. “Of course Gbagbo has to account for what he did, but he’s not the only one – both Gbagbo and Ouattara’s camps have had responsibilities in the crisis.” He acknowledged that the solution is not clear-cut: if the ICC pursued President Alassane Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, former rebel leader, the country “would, for sure, face another crisis”.
Others say the ICC is ignoring Côte d’Ivoire’s turbulent history. “If the International Criminal Court wants to run a genuine investigation, it has to investigate what happened in the past ten years, not only during the latest crisis”, said Aimée, a recent university graduate who lives in Abidjan’s Yopougon neighbourhood.
Ouattara has pledged on several occasions that Ivorian justice will investigate all sides, and in October the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both camps.
The appointment of former warlords, some of whom are alleged to have committed war crimes, to significant positions in the new national army, Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), has not always inspired confidence, but such appointments are reportedly a strategy by Ouattara to weaken their influence in the long term, and appears to be having some impact.
A South-African-style Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (DTRC), led by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, was inaugurated in September but Ivoirians are sceptical of its ability to heal the country. “Ivoirians don’t really understand how it is going to work,” Patrick N’Gouan, who heads a civil rights umbrella group, Convention for Civil Society, told IRIN, adding that civil society was not adequately consulted on the commission’s membership.
Albert Gerard Koenders, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Côte d’Ivoire, welcomes the commission while recognizing that “it faces lots of challenges. There is a need for a nationally led justice and reconciliation dialogue – the UN needs to support this,” he told IRIN at a UN security meeting in Senegalese capital Dakar.
Dismantling the mistrust will not be easy. “I don’t really believe in this idea of reconciliation,” said Hervé, a mechanic from the neighbourhood of Blokosso, told IRIN. “Gbagbo’s supporters are not yet accepting the situation and too many people are too resentful about what happened.”
Security better but violations continue
In the commercial capital, Abidjan, shops and businesses have reopened, the port is busy again, security has improved significantly, the city is being cleaned up, and road works are in progress since former President Laurent Gbagbo’s capture on April 11, putting an end to a five-month political crisis in which at least 3,000 people died, according to the International Criminal Court.
But in the west of the country – a region with a long history of tension between indigenous and non-native populations – residents and observers say the security situation is still precarious.
President Alassane Ouattara’s government has not yet been able to bring the west or the north under control – both run by rebel group Forces Nouvelles for 10 years – partly because of the lack of security forces, and weak police and judicial systems, which have allowed a “climate of impunity” to remain, said UNICEF spokesperson Louis Vigneault-Dubois.
The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) recorded 26 extrajudicial killings from 11 July to 11 August – the most recent figures available – mostly committed in the west by the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), the national army.
A report published by UNICEF and Save the Children on 23 November cited over 1,000 violations, including 415 sexual assaults, committed in Abidjan and the west since November 2010, most of them against women and girls. UNICEF representative Hervé Ludovic de Lys says this is just the “tip of the iceberg”, given that the vast majority of assaults are not recorded.
Violations continue elsewhere in the country too, according to UN spokesperson Touré, who has just returned from Bouaké, in the centre of the country, where he heard “dreadful” reports of sexual abuse from women and girls, including of babies having been assaulted.
UN spokesman Hamadoun Touré said the setting up of eight new UN military camps should help secure the zone.
To produce more professional security forces, reform is urgently needed. Planned reforms are underway and include demobilizing thousands of inexperienced volunteers who joined the FRCI during the war, and strengthening the role of the police and gendarmes.
Initial reforms have already diminished the influence of warlords who once operated across the country, and the parallel economy they put in place in the north is no longer working, said an Abidjan-based African diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous.
Parliamentary elections, scheduled for 11 December, will take place on time, according to Yacouba Bamba, a spokesman for the nation’s Independent Electoral Commission.
UN representative Koenders, told IRIN at a regional security meeting in the Senegalese capital, Dakar: “The military, police and gendarmerie have put in place a security plan for the elections… we hope to see open, free and transparent elections in CDI.”
Laurent Akoun, general secretary of the former ruling party – Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) – said no candidates from the party are running because of the continued detention of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo and several civilian and military members of the opposition.
He also cited a lack of dialogue with the government as a problem, and said the party has security concerns. A meeting of the FPI on 20 November in Abidjan was broken up by members of the army and civilians wearing pro-Ouattara T-shirts. “What is surprising is that the government is not trying to deny it or blame those who did it,” said Akoun. Security forces continue to crack down on active supporters of Gbagbo.
Upcoming elections are vital to the credibility of President Ouattara and the reconciliation process, but, given the legacy of last year’s elections, many Ivoirians IRIN spoke to are lukewarm.
“I’m not sure I’m going to vote – I’m not interested in politics anymore,” said Laurent, a physical education teacher and former political enthusiast in Abidjan’s Cocody neighbourhood.
Mixed picture for education, health
Most public schools re-opened at the beginning of the school year, but in the west some remain closed as their teachers have not returned, while some families say they don’t have enough money to send their children to school.
Jennifer Hofmann, the education cluster coordinator at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said despite the government trying to lure the teachers back, many remain in Liberia About 1,000 intern teachers across the country are waiting to be appointed, but Hofmann said some villages in the west may be forced to hire voluntary teachers. Public universities will not open until October 2012 because so many were vandalized in the crisis.
Although all the main hospitals in Abidjan are up and running, staff numbers are slightly lower than before the crisis, and in the west the health situation is “in a state of humanitarian emergency”, with crumbling structures and lack of stocks forcing health staff to work in mobile clinics, said Dr Juma Kariburyo, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Abidjan.
Money for healthcare support is “running out” for most WHO partners, and medicine stocks and the equipment needed to run mobile clinics are dangerously low, he said. In the aftermath of the crisis the government announced free healthcare, but such a policy requires an effective funding strategy, which has not yet been thought through completely, Kariburyo noted.
Overall, the economy is growing – surprising many – and is expected to expand by 8-9 percent in 2012, according to the IMF and World Bank. “We hope that Côte d’Ivoire will once again become the economic motor of the region,” said Koenders.
Several large infrastructure projects are already underway, including a third bridge over Abidjan’s lagoon, expansion of an Abidjan-based power plant, and plans for a highway between Abidjan and the city of Grand Bassam, 100km to the east.
The Tongon gold mine in northern Côte d’Ivoire was inaugurated in October and should help the country produce 13 tons of gold a year from 2012, said the ministry of Mines and Energy. The cocoa harvest hit a record last season with almost 1.5 million tons of beans exported.
The IMF and the World Bank have made reform of the cocoa sector one of the conditions for US$3 billion of debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative. The IMF resumed its programme in Côte d’Ivoire and agreed to loans of $745 million, while the World Bank has made a gift of $200 million.
Investors are clearly starting to have confidence in Ouattara’s economic vision, said Ranie-didice Bah, an economist at the University of Bouaké. Since his election the President has travelled widely to promote investment in Côte d’Ivoire and a few Western companies are opening branches in Abidjan, including a French food chain, a high-end bakery, and a furniture outlet.
However, many small firms are “still waiting for the recovery”, noted Innocent N’Dry, an adviser at the economic mission of the French Embassy.
And many are not experiencing the benefits of these gains, while the cost of living is high. “There is work”, said Hervé, who runs a garage in Blokosso. “But people don’t have money, so they pay half of the cost [of vehicle service and repairs] and give the rest when they can,” he said.